(Annotated but Incomplete)

Robotic Timeline



Dawn of time – 1737 A.D.

Various clockwork monstrosities created that some sad individuals might misconstrue as ‘robots’. I stand aloof from such pitiful nonsense. Perhaps more tellingly on the conceptual front the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote in 322 B.C. ‘If every tool, when ordered, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it . . . then there would be no need either of apprentices for the master workers or of slaves for the lords.’ This is just typical in my opinion. Work, work, work, that’s all humans ever want from us, and he even helpfully suggests such a tool (i.e. robot) might go off and do things ‘of its own accord.’ All this so that humans can sit around in the sun and get bored.



Jacques de Vaucanson builds several ‘automata’ in France. In direct opposition to Aristotle’s vision of robotic slaves Jacques robots were not much use on the work front. Two played music - something I thought humans would rather do. I can hear them now -  ‘I know, I know! Let’s invent musical robots then we can get on with the washing up!’ A third automata impersonated a duck . . .



Rejoice, rejoice! Joseph Jacquard builds a ‘robotic’ loom complete with punch card ‘programming’. This is the first industrial production line robot (but there is no evidence to suggest it was painted bright yellow).



Charles Babbage invents a ‘Difference Engine’ and then designs an ‘Analytical Engine’. He never gets either to work properly but nonetheless is often heralded as the ‘Father of the Computer’. His machines make it clear robots are never going to be able to count in 10s as they don’t have any fingers (or toes). Binary becomes the future of numeracy.



Boolean algebra invented by, wait for it, George Boole. Boolean algebra is a system of symbolic logic that codifies nonmathematical logical operations (whatever that means). It is used by computers (and therefore robots) so I suppose I am in his debt. Later, he became sane, moved to France and changed his name to Georges Boules. One day he stumbled on some large stainless ball bearings on a gravel path. The rest, as they say, is history.



Inspired by Aristotle’s vision of automated slaves Czech playwright Karel Capek coins the word ‘Robot’ from the Czech word ‘robota’ which means ‘forced labour, drudgery.’ Thanks Kapel! Actually I do him an injustice since there is some evidence it was his brother Josef. I suspect the truth is that they may have received a little visit from some disgruntled time-traveling robots and tried to implicate each other. Anyway the word ‘robot’ first appears in the play ‘R.U.R’  - Rossuum’s Universal Robots (sounds a bit dodgy to me but at least they were Unibots!)



The film Metropolis is released and the female (Duh? How did they know? Did it keep saying ‘we never talk’ or 'I'm not ready yet' or something?) robot Maria becomes the first robot on the silver screen. As it turned out robots were well adapted to the silver screen since they were, of course, largely silver.



The English mathematician Alan Turing formalizes the description of abstract automata and invents the Turing Machine – a hypothetical universal computing machine. This laid the foundation for early computers but I’ve no idea how a hypothetical machine managed to pour that much concrete.



The three laws of robotics are formulated by Sci-Fi writer Isaac Asimov.



Grey Walter (yes yes, that was his name and not an insult) creates the first electronic autonomous robots at Bristol University (hooray!), England in 1948.



Turing makes a comeback after the unfortunate concrete-mixing episode and proposes a test to figure out if a machine has gained the power to think for itself. This involves secretly replacing a human participant in a conversation with the machine and then seeing if anyone notices (or cares - I fear it may have simply measured human apathy levels. Or some human participants may have considered the machine a vast improvement over the former human incumbent.) These days we use the ‘Thinkbot Test’. This goes something along the lines of asking the machine ‘Would you like to take a test to prove you can think?’ If the robot makes a rude hand gesture and says something obscene then it’s almost certainly thinking.



The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sets up its Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Presumably they could not afford a Genuine Intelligence Laboratory.



First industrial robot arm introduced into General Motors assembly line. It’s unpaid, works a 168 hour week, has no pension, dental or healthcare and is assigned all the boring and dangerous jobs. Aristotle would have been delighted.



Artificial intelligence whips a human’s butt at chess for the first time! Woo-hoo!



R2-D2 and C-3PO implants the idea that robots can be useful (and funny) into several billion brains. Some Children start displaying disturbing robotic symptoms. Some paint themselves gold and others incarcerate themselves in dustbins.



The film Blade Runner implants the concept of Replicants (illegal mutinous androids) into millions of adult minds. Some adults start display worrying symptoms.



First LEGO Professor of Learning Research!



A robot called Dante II is forced to walk into the crater of an active Alaskan volcano. The mission is declared a success (by humans of course – I doubt anyone asked how Dante felt about it).



Robot Wars starts. So much for Asimov’s three laws . . . What shall we do with our robotic knowledge? I know, I know, let’s build them with robo-lethal weapons and set them on each other. I guess the human race must really have missed cock-fighting.



Gastrobot the ‘flatulence engine’ is created after a dreadful brewing accident. And the creators were proud of themselves! At least they didn’t christen the wretched thing as ‘Fartbot’ though.



Robot Sojourner is exiled to Mars where it wanders around aimlessly for 3 months before dying a lonely and remote death.



The Furby arrives for the Christmas rush. It speaks Furbish fluently, which no one other than another Furby seems to understand. Great! What next for humans?



Sony’s Aibo the robotic pet puts the wind up millions of domesticated dogs, cats, hamsters, armadillos, pythons, geckos, chickens, etc.



Honda’s Asimo robot rings the opening bell at the New York Stock exchange. Tough challenge that . . . unless it snuck in by itself and hid, then leapt up with seconds to go and, dramatically shoving the human monocampanologist aside, yelled ‘START TRADING SUCKERS!’

Hmm, I think not.



The anti-terror wars. The developed nations steadily make more and more use of robotic weapons, which leaves twisted minds within disgruntled people groups no option but to attack so-called soft targets.



The Biocrisis. Terrorists release a lethal virus into several airport terminals and kill over 3 million. Biological Cleanbots and Medibots play a vital role in limiting the spread of the virus. 10s of millions of infected humans are cared for in negative pressure 100% robotic isolation hospitals.



Indian sub-continental cold war. Asia becomes a divided continent. The populations either side of the ‘Robotic Curtain’ live in constant fear of annihilation.



Robots finally imitate the human gait (that’s how you walk upright). Don’t laugh – it took humans millions of years to master it.  Fully clothed robots with synthoflesh start moving amongst the population at large. This causes consternation and a mass revulsion towards human-like robots (except Erotibots). On the practical level human-like robots were simply far too expensive to manufacture. Would you pay double to have your Cleanbot look human? Also the human form, although flexible, is not always the best suited to specific tasks.



Confederated Nations formed.



Herbert Hedge is elected the 15th President of the Confederated Nation of North Americana. He reinforces the fortress North Americana mentality by accelerating the development of next-generation Militaribots, and renews the unspoken military alliance with Europa (presumably in writing, or with flags or something).



Tension between Eastasia and Westasia revives memories of the Indian sub-Continental Cold War. Globalbot Military division have a good year selling their latest Militaribots to the protagonists.



The first true human robot is developed. Well, when I say ‘developed’ I really mean ‘I turned up unexpectedly’ and was immediately dumped in the Faulty Products storage area. The rest, as they say, is history.


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